BIO of Nelson Antonio Denis

“Denis is an indefatigable campaigner, often seen throughout the neighborhood campaigning on the back of a blue bus.”  

       – The New York Times

Nelson Antonio Denis represented East Harlem in the New York State Assembly.Nelson_Denis_and_his_mother_Sarah

He is also an award-winning screenwriter and film director.

He was raised by his grandmother and mother, Sarah Denis.

Sarah arrived from Puerto Rico at age 16, and immediately went to work in the garment center of New York for twenty cents an hour, eight dollars a week.

After 23 years of working and saving, she was able to send her son to Harvard.


Denis graduated from Harvard College and Yale Law School, and was an attorney with the New York firm of Donovan, Leisure, Newton & Irvine.


Denis wrote War Against All Puerto Ricans, a non-fiction book about the Puerto Rican revolution of October 1950. The book documents the gunfights, mass arrests, and secret actions of the CIA and FBI on the island.

It also documents the bombing of two towns in broad daylight – the only time in history that the US ever bombed its own unarmed citizens. 


 For several years, Denis was the editorial director of El Diario La Prensa, the largest Spanish-language newspaper in New York City.

While writing for El Diario, Denis published over 300 editorials and received the “Best Editorial Writing” award from the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.

In addition, Denis published feature articles, book and film reviews, and editorials in the Harvard Political Review, New York Daily News, New York Newsday, and New York Sun.


Denis majored in government at Harvard, and campaigned for Jimmy Carter while at Yale.

In 1996 he won a seat in the New York State Assembly, where he served as a Democrat from 1997 to 2001. He was also a New York State Democratic District Leader from 1995 to 2001.

His campaigns were labor-intensive. There were no high-priced consultants. The press noted that his mother, Sarah, worked 12-hour days on the campaign trail and that Denis was “an indefatigable campaigner, often seen throughout the neighborhood campaigning on the back of a blue bus.”


"Fighting for East Harlem"

In the 1990’s, East Harlem contained over 800 vacant and abandoned buildings. For this reason, when he took office,  Denis fought for economic development projects and construction financing, to rebuild the decaying infrastructure of his neighborhood.

Through his Community Reinvestment Act legislation, public hearings, CRA testimony throughout New York State, and advocacy on the Assembly Banking Committee, Denis persuaded banks to double their lending to home owners and small business persons in East Harlem, the Bronx, and other distressed areas in New York State.

For further information about Denis’s work in East Harlem, see:


In 1994, Denis entered into a controversial relationship with the Almighty Latin King  and Queen Nation.

While jogging along the FDR Drive, he ran into a group of 500 Latin Kings, and recruited them into his campaign for the State Assembly. Denis and the Latin Kings cleaned up several parks in East Harlem,  and attended community board meetings together.

Denis also pledged that, if he won, he would help the Latin Kings to create a community based non-profit corporation, a leadership training course, and a construction apprenticeship program to rehabilitate roughly 800 abandoned buildings in East Harlem. Denis maintained that “the Kings are the product of 20 years of neglect…these are the youth that Reagan forgot,” but others did not agree. His opponent, the incumbent Assemblyman Angel Del Toro, said “they’re gangsters and a threat.”

Another early skeptic was Denis’s own mother, Sarah Denis. She laid down rules that included no beepers or babies in the office, but she gradually learned to work with them.

Despite this controversy, the New York Times endorsed Denis for the State Assembly  that year.


Prior to serving in the New York State Assembly, Denis directed TV commercials and several short films. Later, he wrote and directed the feature film Vote For Me! based on his own political experiences in East Harlem.

Many East Harlem residents, musicians, and even local politicians appeared in the film, which “blurred the line between reality and fiction to capture the spectacle of New York politics.” (New York Times)

Vote For Me! screened in over a dozen film festivals in New York, Los Angeles, Boston and Puerto Rico. It won several awards, sold out in every venue, and received nationwide news coverage.

For more information about the film see:


Over the past 30 years Denis completed three novels, eight feature-length screenplays, and several plays and one-acts.Nelson Running

He continues to write newspaper editorials, both in English and Spanish.

He also teaches writing through various college, theatre, and literary arts programs in New York City.

As Hemingway sharpened twenty pencils, and Wilde applied glue to his chair, Denis has his own writing routine. He runs several miles every day, yelling out ideas as they come to him. Then he sits down to write.

Denis is especially interested in the history and culture of Puerto Rico.


"Nelson Denis"Nelson Antonio Denis is a writer, film director, and former New York State Assemblyman. His award-winning films premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and screened throughout the U.S. and Puerto Rico.

His editorials for the New York Daily News and El Diario (over 300 of them) won awards from the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.

He is the writer of eight feature-length screenplays, writer/director of the feature film Vote For Me!, and author of the book War Against All Puerto Ricans.

Vote For Me "The Movie"


He represented El Barrio/East Harlem in the New York State Assembly (1996-2000) and developed a leadership initiative with the Almighty Latin King and Queen Nation.

Denis recently completed the novel JUAN BOBO, and has a lifelong interest in the history, culture and folklore of Puerto Rico.

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